Presidential race won't be a walk in the park

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippine electorate can expect a more vicious and personal presidential campaign once the official campaign period for the country's highest posts begins on February 9.  

This, even if many politicians running in the 2016 elections are unopposed.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) records obtained and analyzed by the ABS-CBN Investigative Research show 40 congressmen are running unopposed. They include detained former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, as well as the mother of vice-presidential candidate Senator Francis Escudero, Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero.

Half of all the candidates for district representative and vice governor who are running unopposed in 2016 are Liberal Party members.

Nearly half of all unopposed candidates for mayor, likewise, belong to the administration party.

Below are the number of candidates running unopposed in various positions.

There are 40 candidates running unopposed for district representative. Half of them (20) belong to the LP.

Fourteen candidates are running unopposed for the vice governor position. Half of them (7) belong to the LP.

A total of 224 candidates are running unopposed for the mayor position. Nearly half of them (105) are running under the LP.

In six of the top 10 vote-rich provinces in the country, 12 candidates are running unopposed for district representative and 8 are running under the LP.

Thirty-five (35) mayoral candidates are running unopposed in the top 10 vote-rich areas. The number of candidates per vote-rich area is as follows: Pangasinan (7), Iloilo (5), Negros Occidental (5), Batangas (4), Laguna (4), Cavite (3), Bulacan (2), Rizal (2), Navotas City (1), Cebu (1), and Nueva Ecija (1). (Source: Comelec).

Of the 19 candidates running for district representative under the Liberal Party, 4 candidates are running unopposed in Quezon City, 2 in Marikina, and 1 in Manila. In addition, 5 candidates are running unopposed in Region IV-A, 3 of them from Laguna.

In the province of Quirino, the positions of district representative, governor, and vice governor are all unopposed. In Apayao and Camiguin, candidates for both the governor and vice governor positions are running unopposed.

MACHINERY

It has been a generally accepted political belief that local candidates provide the machinery and command votes for presidential and other national candidates during a general election.

Quimbo said the administration party anticipated his lighter load in the local campaign when they drafted him to be one of the campaign spokespersons for Mar Roxas and one of the campaign managers for the the senatorial campaign of the administration.

"Nung una, hindi ibig sabihin talagang inalok na ako. Bago pa nagkaroon ng pagtatapos ng filing of candidacies, meaning bago pa nalaman na unopposed ako, kinausap na talaga akong kung maari akong tumulong ngunit siguro inaanticipate na rin nila na wala akong magiging matinding kalaban kasi dapat nga a year before, alam mo na kung may matindi kang kalaban o wala,'' Quimbo said.

"Ibig sabihin ngayon na wala kang kalaban, mas lumalaki yung expectation ng partido na ikaw ay maging mas bahagi pa doon sa kampaniya so nadagdagan ako ng trabaho. Maliban sa pagiging spokesperson, ako rin ang nagpapatakbo ng kampaniya ng mga senador ng Daang Matuwid Coalition so nagkaroon ako ng dagdag na trabaho because yun nga dahil wala akong kalaban."

Quimbo said as a general theory in politics, unopposed local candidates are in a good position to help in national campaigns because they don't have to think of their own political survival.

"Pinag-uusapan sa marami sa amin lalo dito sa NCR [National Capital Region], naniniwala na kailangan nating ipagpatuloy ang ginagawa natin sa nakaraang anim na taon at willing tayo na magbigay ng oras doon,'' he said.

University of the Philippines political science professor Jean Franco agreed with Quimbo's analysis.

"Kung unopposed ka at yung local government official na unopposed ay susuportahan yung isang kandidato na kapartido niya, siyempre mas ensured na kahit papaano makakapag-concentrate doon sa national politician na iiendorse nitong unopposed,'' Franco said.

''Maraming nagsasabi dahil sa synchronized 'yung elections natin, yung party loyalty lalong na-eencourage kasi hndi ba kapag election, parang kapag sa national sabi nila kapag kasabay ng national elections ang local elections sa local level, wala nang party loyalty kasi kailangan manalo ako so lahat, lahat gagawin ko."

Franco, however, cannot yet say yet how potent will the unopposed be in supporting a presidential candidate.

For himself, Quimbo has theories as to why he is unopposed.

"Tingin ko is first, I'm a third termer. I don't want to overglorify yung situtation na parang dahil sa kagalingan. Una, third termer ako so kadalasan marami nag aantay na lang patapusin.

"Pangalawa is tingin ko, nakita rin nila na it's more difficult to challenge an incumbent," he said.

While being an unopposed administration candidate has its perks, it doesn't mean those perks are exclusive to administration candidates, he said.

Quimbo also denied that the party had anything to do with him running unopposed.

However, it can also be a double-edged sword. For one, you spend more, he said.

"Madalas totoo pala na mas nagiging costly; costly siya in a sense na dahil wala kang kalaban, wala ring matakbuhan 'yung ibang mga taong nangangailangan, ibig sabihin,'' he said.

''Ang election is always a partisan activity. Mamimili ang tao diyan at marami diyan. Nananalaytay sa dugo nila yung usapin ng eleksyon. Dahil wala silang mapuntahan, lahat talaga sa iyon,'' he said.

Another downside, he said, is that the unopposed bet's political base tends to relax.

''Bilang isang pinuno tulad din naman ng isang platoon ng grupo ng mga sundalo ay ayaw mo silang nawawalan ng fire in their belly and I see it so you try to find ways to para buhayin yung ganung klaseng apoy sa kanilang dibdib," he said.

NASTY CAMPAIGN

Still, for Franco, this does not mean that the upcoming presidential campaign will be a walk in the park for the candidates and the voters.

''Ang tingin ko, sa pagbubukas ng official campaign season sa February 9, magiging mas nasty dahil napakarami nilang kandidato at mahirap kasi para gumawa ng campaign strategy na ang dami mong kalaban. You don't know kung anong klaseng mensahe ang ipararating mo sa mga botante. So ang mangyayari niyan, baka ang mga kandidato eh tulad ng nangyayari ngayon nag-rereact na lang sila sa sinasabi ng isa't isa kaysa sa gumawa ng mas matino at mas malalim na diskurso para sa kanilang mga plataporma,'' Franco said.

Franco expects the upcoming presidential campaign to be fought on all fronts, namely, a ground war, a media war, and a social media war.

Overarching all of these is how money will play a key role in the campaigns are going to run.

Votes are now up for sale since the automated election system is supposedly harder to rig. She also said that the poll body must also focus on campaign finance reform.

''Iyung tinatawag nilang vote buying, ang minsan ang nakakalungkot diyan eh yung mga reporma sa eleksyon laging nakatutuok sa mga mahihirap na sa kabilang banda inisip ko hindi ba masyadong insulting yun sa mahihirap?" Franco said.

''Hindi ba ang mas tuunan natin nang dapat, ang tuunan natin nang pansin ay ang campaign finance reform kasi hindi ba, parang mas may stake yung mayayaman na ibenta ang kanilang suporta para ang isang pulitiko na kanilang sinuportahan ay tutulungan sila pag ito ay nanalo."

That's why vote-buying is on the watchlist of both the Comelec and election watchdog Lente.

Ona Caritos of Lente said vote-buying has been done wholesale.

"Ang babantayan ang pinakamalaking problema talaga ngayong eleksyon ay vote-buying. Simula nung nag automate tayo ng election nuong 2010, hindi na madaya ng mga kandidato yung machine eh. So yung mga kandidato, yung mga supporters nila lumalabas doon sa machine at dumidirekta na sa mga botante,'' Caritos said.

While vote-buying is to be expected in hotly contested areas, Caritos said it also still happens in unopposed areas.

For 2016, votes can be bought from as low as P500.

CAMPAIGN RULES

The Commission on Elections is already preparing to go after all violators of the election laws.

"Doon sa mga botante, well hanggat maari huwag tayong tatanggap ng kahit anong bagay na maaring mapagkamalan na vote-buying. Very important to remember also na sa mga rally pinagbabawal natin yung pagbibigay ng kahit ano,'' Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said.

This early, Jimenez said candidates must make sure all their campaign paraphernalia are out before the start of the campaign period or else, they may be considered as violations already.

The campaign period for national positions starts February 9 while bets for local positions get to start on March 25. However, campaigns are not allowed on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the day before election day.

Jimenez encourages the voters to report to Comelec violations of campaign rules.

During the campaign period , the Comelec will also be counting the broadcast political advertisements of candidates. Social media, however, is a different story.

Privately owned public utility vehicles are allowed to carry political posters since all government assets cannot be used for campaigns

Caritos called attention to a loophole in the rules on poster violations after the Supreme Court ruled that private parties are allowed to post political posters.

Jimenez also told candidates to keep track of their expenses.

At 54,363,844 registered voters for 2016, the maximum each national candidate is allowed to spend for the campaign is over half a billion pesos.

Donations should also be recorded. These are taxable unless the candidate wants to return excess donations after the campaign.

Still, that doesn't mean Lente won't be watching donations at all.

Caritos said not all corporations are allowed to donate.

"Kasi under sa Omnibus Election Code, bawal magbigay ng donasyon o contribution yung mga may kontrata sa gobyerno, may franchise, nagkaroon ng grant mula sa gobyerno,'' Caritos said.

Still, owners of those companies are allowed to donate in their private capacity, according to Caritos.

Caritos said Lente will monitor any possible use of state assets in the campaign.

"Ang dapat bantayan ay yung paggamit, paggamit ng state resources. Ang isa sa mga naviviolate is the use of state resources. Kasi yung mga in power, hindi mo maiiwasan na magamit nila yung building o yung sasakyan ng gubyerno na bawal naman kasi hindi sila pwedeng gumamit ng sasakyan ng gobyerno kasi it's for their own purpose, personal purpose,'' Caritos said.